In Isa Leshko’s photographic book, Allowed to Grow Old – Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries – the concept that “ageing is a luxury, and not a curse” is highlighted so beautifully. But what about us? Should this not apply to all living beings? How do we ensure that our own old age is the best it can be? Luxury, like beauty, is relative, but what can we do to avoid old age being a curse?
Choice, control and planning are key ingredients of successful older age for many people. We may not be able to completely control the ageing process, but we can exert some control over how we deal with it and the circumstances under which we experience it. Start researching and considering your needs and wants sooner rather than later. Do you have existing ailments or anticipate any sudden deterioration in your health? Do you have pets or sports/hobbies you enjoy? Are you single or have a lifelong partner? These are all factors to be considered in planning for your future.
Meet with a home-care agency and see what’s possible in the comfort of your own home. This includes Live-in care where you have one-on-one support with shopping, cooking, housework, personal care and so on. It often compares favourably price-wise with some residential choices. Or go and visit a residential home and see whether you can imagine yourself moving there. There is no right or wrong answer because everyone is different. Live-in care has become very popular over the years, as an alternative to residential homes. It really maximises the feeling of independence, control and familiarity, as one can remain in the comfort of their own home, with a Carer. This creates a sense of empowerment and identity, that can sometimes be lost when moving to residential homes.
Keeping active in body and mind is another key. Physically, animals and humans alike slow down as we age, but you rarely see an animal cease to move completely. It amuses me to watch my mother’s ageing tomcat appear to contemplate dramatic jumps before he leaps these days! But the important thing is, he still leaps. He still maintains his nightly garden patrols, albeit for shorter periods. Vigorous exercise may no longer be an option for you as you reach your golden years, but something as simple as some stretches and a gentle stroll can make a significant difference to your physical and mental well-being. And if you are afraid of falling, or feel vulnerable taking a stroll alone, then all the more reason to investigate care, especially home care which is designed to keep you independent for as long as possible.
Mental stimulation is just as important. If your eyesight is failing, then try audiobooks or Radio 4. No grandchildren to turn you into a “silver surfer”? Sign up to a beginner’s course or ask your tech-savvy Carer – if you have one. The mental stimulation available via technology these days is limitless – from keeping in touch with off-island family via Skype and WhatsApp on mobiles, to having the world at your fingertips via the internet and a computer.
Finally, eat well! “It sounds obvious, but having a balanced diet is crucial for good health, energy and preventing illness” states Age UK who rank watching what you eat and drink as number one of their 10 tips for ageing better. If shopping or cooking for yourself is a challenge, then finding the right home adaptions or home care arrangement can be the perfect solution.
Unlike farm animals we do have a choice about how and where we age. It’s up to us to choose to exercise that choice, by planning ahead.